I hope you won’t mind my replying to your letter of today regarding the Seething Wells Filter Beds via my blog. It gives the advantage that you can respond via the comments box should you wish. Having read with interest your recent correspondence to the press, including todays more measured letter, I would like to respond as one of those accused of ‘hysterical tirade’ and as a fellow member of the Kingston Society. I was also one of those that spent a few of the many volunteer hours working at the London Wetland Centre when the original planting failed and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) had to put right.
I know that we have corresponded previously about the ecology of the Filter Beds site, which is why I was disappointed that your letter did not give weight to any of this information. All of our local and regional organisations with an ecological remit, oppose the Hydro scheme on the grounds that it will damage its inherent features and contribute towards the demise of ecological receptors at nearby sites. These groups include the Royal Parks Authority, London Wildlife Trust, London Bat Group, Richmond Council and the Surbiton and District Birdwatching Society (whose response is endorsed by David Lindo Broadcaster and writer for the RSPB). Their correspondence is on public record.
These organisations base their opinions on the unrealistic assertions of the developers who wish to create a gated estate on land which would not normally be available for development. They also see the damaging actions, which have undermined the ecological functionality of the wetland by draining during 2011. Those with longer memories recall the final proposal of Thames Water who with their consultants Countryside Planning and Management (CPM) asserted in their Environmental Statement (E.S.) that the FB’s were of greater ecological value than first thought and for this reason all them were to be handed to the community and only the wharf developed.
Behind the scenes discussion with Thames Water found that this proposal was not in accordance with our Plan (UDP) and it was not acceptable to build on land reserved for other purposes and our council spent £20,000 at Appeal challenging the application. In hindsight the Thames Water proposal looks wonderful in comparison with the Hydro floating homes, which changes the very feature which made it special and different in the borough. That is the Standing Water Habitat which is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat (BAP) and a priority in the London Mayors BAP and one rare in our borough (which will be < 12 % open land once this site is developed).
I offer you (and any other readers) a friendly challenge to find a site in the borough with so many ecological features. In doing so the intention is to focus on the large hole in Hydro Team’s Ecological Appraisal of the FB’s. That is, their systematic failure to properly evaluate this site in its local and regional context. There are no sites in this borough that tick as many ecological boxes as here. Our most notable site floristically is probably Tolworth Court Farm (TCF) Nature Reserve, which has been well managed to increase the number of species. Field 5847 which forms part of this complex (though privately owned) is chalk grassland but does not contain the London rarities such as restharrow, salad burnet and such an abundance of field scabious.
TCF does not have the inherent bat interest with offsite colonies coming to feed along the stream during the early part of the evening. Information regarding reptiles is limited to the odd sighting of slow worm. Hogsmill Open Space has pockets of neutral grassland but most of its notable features have been undermined due to lack of management or anthropogenic factors. Bat surveys undertaken along the Hogsmill show that few areas are of any bat interest with the exception of foraging areas at Worcester Park.
During 2004, I wrote a report for my colleagues in the London Bat Group, stating why I believed the FB’s should be acknowledged as a Site of Metropolitan Importance (SMI) for bats. That is, the site meets the habitat requirements of several bat species throughout the year, including roosts during: hibernation, maternity, summer, as well as mating roosts. Whilst the London Wetland Centre is an important foraging site for bats does not have the roost opportunities provided at the FB’s.
Ecologically we have lost so much viable habitat in the borough since the 1970’s. This includes recognised special sites, such as the Hogsmill Sewage Works once an important bird ringing site and the Kingston Cemetery, which was a British Trust for Ornithology CBC site and the subject of papers in British Birds. In addition, the Fishponds was once home to a rare colony of Natterer’s bats once studied by Surrey University (2003); the allotments in Alexander Road hosted a number of Sylvia warbler territories; Jubilee Wood and meadow was the largest reed bunting roost in Surrey is now a mass of dying oak trees, flooded by leaking pipes from a nearby utilities site, the Woods, Oakhill, have recently had many trees cut down due to health and safety and so the story continues.
We have lost many breeding species from this borough in the last few years as a result of development which has not given anything back. Many of our decent wildlife sites are now in private ownership and we have a duty to ensure that these sites are properly stewarded. I am disappointed that this attempt to protect a special site is viewed as a ‘hysterical tirade’. If there is any documentation I can provide to substantiate the above, I am happy to do so.